Apple, Microsoft may join forces for multimedia on 'Net

The two companies are holding talks that could result in the integration of QuickTime with Windows 95 and NT.

Microsoft and Apple are ready to bury the hatchet and adopt a common approach to multimedia standards and products.

The companies are holding talks that could result in the integration of Apple's QuickTime development environment into the Windows 95 and Windows NT environments, including support for the DirectX API set, sources says.

The agreement would include development of Apple's QuickTime Internet Movie Utility for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, giving Internet Explorer the same capability to capture and play streaming video over the Internet as Netscape Communications' Navigator browser.

If the two sides reach an agreement, Microsoft will develop an Internet Explorer plug-in for QuickTime and Apple will modify its technology to improve support for Windows' multimedia technologies.

Apple is already expanding the QuickTime development platform to the Windows environment, Apple executives have confirmed, and is working to support most of the DirectX APIs with QuickTime. Currently, QuickTime for Windows only offers playback capabilities.

"What's really happening here is that this is no longer a religious issue for either company," says Carlos Montalvo, head of Apple's QuickTime development efforts. "Microsoft can look at the numbers as well as we can and see that 60% of the video content on the Web is created by OpenDoc and another 30% is MPEG, which QuickTime can also read."

The rift between Microsoft and Apple is being bridged in other ways as well. Apple is bundling Microsoft's BackOffice suite with its Advanced Workgroup Solutions servers in Europe -- a move that could be duplicated in the United States if the effort is successful overseas, company sources say.

"We've got to crawl before we can walk," one executive says.

And Microsoft head Bill Gates has assured Apple that the next iteration of its front-end suite of applications, Office 97, will be available for Macintosh as well as Windows.

Beyond making Apple's QuickTime Internet technology available, Apple will also integrate its QuickTime VR technology, which can be used to create a panoramic, 3D environment that can incorporate embedded objects within an image.

"Microsoft's ActiveMovie technology is very late," says one developer. "It hasn't even shipped the software developer's kit yet. Microsoft might not be that wedded to ActiveMovie anymore."

To replace ActiveMovie in Microsoft's affections, Apple would need to redo the QuickTime code to improve its support for Microsoft's underlying multimedia technology, primarily the DirectX API set.

Apple is working to incorporate support for most of the DirectX APIs into QuickTime. The crown jewel of those APIs is Direct3D, which competes head to head with Apple's QuickDraw 3D software.

Meanwhile, longtime Microsoft partner Intel is also seeking to work with Microsoft to provide video over the Internet.

Instead of using Apple's "fast start" streaming video technology -- which downloads enough data to start playing the video while downloading video behind the scenes -- Intel is trying to convince Microsoft to hold out for an improved version of Intel's existing video technology. This would feature a better compression algorithm that would enable users to decode video over the Internet on the fly.

Footnote: Since this story went to press Microsoft has denied it is in any negotiations to license QuickTime. Click here for the story.

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